Fish Lines April 2021 Edition

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Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program - USFWS Interior Region 3 Great Lakes

April 23, 2021

fish lines

Fish Lines is a monthly publication that highlights the recent news and work conducted by USFWS Midwest Region Fisheries personnel and their partners and friends. For questions or for more information contact the editor, email tim_smigielski@fws.gov

Did You Know?

Julie Timmer close up wearing FWS hat

Faces of FAC: Julie Timmer, Administrative Officer

Courtesy of HQ Fish and Aquatic Conservation

Our conservation roots run deep. On February 9, 1871, Congress created the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Their charge was simple - to determine if America’s fisheries were declining, and if so, to figure out how to protect them. For 150 years, we have been working to keep America’s fisheries safe, healthy, and productive for the American people.  In honor of the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Commission, we are shining a spotlight on the incredible people who carry on that legacy of conservation today and into the next 150 years! 

Meet Julie Timmer, Business-Biology Translator!

Julie has been an administrative officer at Pendills and Sullivan Creek National Fish Hatchery complex for 12 years. She helps connect the business end of conservation with the staff and visitors.

What's your official title and job series? 
Administrative Officer, GS-0341

How important are administrative careers to conservation work?
No organization can function without administrative support.

Most enjoyable aspect of your work.  
I enjoy connecting the budget to the program; seeing the numbers directly impacting the objectives to meet our mission.

How would you describe your conservation work to someone you just met?
No organization can function without administrative support.   Our field office maintains lake trout brood stock for rearing future production fish as part of the Lake Trout Restoration program for the Great Lakes. As an administrative officer, my job is to help. I enjoy connecting the budget needs to the program; seeing the numbers directly impacting the objectives to meet our mission.

What does conservation mean to you?
Leaving the earth better than we found it

What is your favorite aquatic species?
Northern pike

What led to your career choice? 

When I was a student at Lake Superior State University, I saw a flyer in the Business Department announcing a Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) with the Fish and Wildlife Service. While I was still in college completing my degree, I was able to intern at Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery. I fell in love with the mission of Fish and Wildlife Service.

What is the challenge facing America’s fish/waters and/or the FWS today that we need to address in the coming decades?

Being mindful of small actions today can lead to bigger repercussions tomorrow. Whether it may be beneficial actions or actions that can have an adverse impact.  Embracing the Leave No Trace principles and share them with others so we can reduce our impact to nature.

Words of advice for others who want to do this job?  

When providing outreach, strive to help make a connection between the audience to the mission, regardless of the age or background.

What are your hobbies?
I love the outdoors. Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, fishing, hunting, trapping, snowmobiling, making maple syrup with my family, and volunteering for outdoors focused non-profit organizations.

Where are your home waters? 
Southeastern shores of Lake Superior.

Where did you go to school?
B.A. Business Education from Lake Superior State University
M.A Public Administration from Central Michigan University

Above: Julie Timmer has served as Administrative Officer at the Pendills and Sullivan Creek NFH Complex near Brimley, Michigan for 12 years.

Photo credit: USFWS

various fish captured in a large seine net with people surrounding it

Modified Unified Method Comes to the Mississippi River

By Rebecca Neeley, La Crosse FWCO

In response to 51 invasive carp that were captured in pool 8 of the Upper Mississippi River between December 2019 and March of 2020, the La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO)partnered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and other agencies, to conduct a Modified Unified Method (MUM) event. This mass removal technique has been used in the Illinois River as well as at Creve Coeur Lake, Missouri. This method uses underwater speakers, electrofishing and boats, to herd invasive carp into a harvest area for removal.

Prior to the MUM event, the La Crosse FWCO conducted eDNA sampling as well as hydroacoustics sampling, looking for invasive carp in both the fall of 2020 and March of 2021. The MUM event was conducted over a week in early April 2021 in seven separate backwaters. Invasive carp were collected in one of the seven locations, Bluff Slough which is just south of the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin. A total of 31 Silver Carp were captured in the same location that the invasive carp were captured in 2019 and 2020.

Although staff from the La Crosse FWCO were not on the water during the event, staff performed the necropsies on all 31 of the Silver Carp captured. During the necropsies, staff collected a series of metric data including weight, length, sex, gonad mass, and removed dorsal spines and otoliths for aging purposes. Staff from the La Crosse FWCO will continue to provide partner support as the Minnesota DNR uses commercial fishermen to remove invasive carp in pool 8 of the UMR.

Above: Biologists remove and release native species from a seine haul while searching for invasive carp. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

adult fanshell mussels in a silver pan

Neosho NFH Restarts Mussel Program with Release of Two State Listed Species

By Nathan Eckert, Neosho NFH

After a long wait Neosho National Fish Hatchery (NFH) is producing freshwater mussels. Working with partners in the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism we identified two species that could be produced using fish here at Neosho NFH. The two mussels were the Western Fanshell and the Butterfly, both of these species are State Endangered in Kansas with the Western Fanshell currently under the SSA process for consideration of Federal status.

The Western Fanshell is an interesting mussel because it produces conglutinates to attract and infest a host fish. The wormlike conglutinates are covered with viable glochidia which are released and attach to the gills of a darter when they are consumed. We use the logperch as a host because we’ve been able to produce them in captivity without relying on collecting large numbers of wild fish each year.

One of the techniques that can be used for releasing mussels into a restoration area is called a free release. This involves placing larval mussels on their appropriate host fish and then releasing them into the stream and allowing the rest of the process to happen as naturally as possible. One benefit of this technique is that there is no chance that the young mussels become accustomed to captive conditions, decreasing their chances to survive in the wild.

For this release we decided to free release 200 logperch inoculated with Western Fanshell and 20 freshwater drum inoculated with the Butterfly. This will equate to several thousand juvenile mussels hitting the bottom of the stream for each species. Hopefully we can repeat the effort for these and other species annually and in a few short years visit the stream and observe an increase in population density for both species.                              

Above: Adult Female Western Fanshell prior to glochidia extraction. Photo credit: USFWS

fws staff displays mussel during online class

Lessons Learned with Virtual Outreach

By Gretchen Newberry, Midwest Fisheries Center

In the past year since the pandemic struck, we have all had to adjust our work. In visitor services, that means no classroom visits, no ranger talks at the refuges and hatcheries, and no large public events. However, this means that we have had the opportunity to step up our game in the virtual world.

A year ago, when non-essential workers were asked to work from home, I contemplated all the events that would be cancelled and how I would pivot to reaching people on line. At first, I sat in on some forums for people who have a long history of on line outreach. They very kindly welcomed me to their meetings. These were museum curators, of various genres, including natural history, art history, and others. The one takeaway from those meetings? You can’t grow an on line community overnight.

So, I set out with a two-prong approach. Reach out to the folks we know – classroom teachers, other environmental education community partners, and parent groups, and expand the content on our on line platform, Facebook. I started a series of Facebook posts, entitled, “Explore Your World” (see this link for an example) that encouraged students to explore the natural world around them. Students could work independently so as not to further burden parents with new curricula during this stressful time. I did a virtual outreach program each week last spring and sent out a digest of links to these Facebook programs and other USFWS virtual environmental education activities to that list of partners. A year later, I can look at the analytics on Facebook and see which of our posts reached the most new people. The pandemic had granted us the ability to expand our reach.

One critical part of our virtual audience expansion was to ensure 508 compliance. Once I transferred our programming on line, I wanted to make sure the public could enjoy it in the virtual world as much as they do in person. I consulted the USFWS 508 compliance guidance web sites and Section508.gov. It’s been a year of learning.

This week, I made a virtual visit to West Salem Elementary School’s first grade classrooms to talk about Wisconsin’s ancient underwater creatures from my living room. I checked out some materials from our office, including a sturgeon stuffed animal, a few mussel shells, and lamprey mounts. For a comparison of animals with whiskers, I tried during a practice session to introduce my cat, Frankie – something I could have never done in person. The kids would have loved it, but my sadly, my cat is no performer. They say in show business never to work with children or animals. In visitor services, children come with the territory, and in the Fish and Wildlife Service, you might have to work with the latter. Which ones you choose to use might make all the difference.

Sometimes you have to take advantage of the benefits that telework provides. From expanding our outreach beyond our local partners, to beefing up our Facebook posts with more content, and to focusing on accessibility in our on line presence, this has been a year of experimentation and growth.

Above: Demonstrating a pimpleback mussel in a virtual classroom visit. Photo credit: Gretchen Newberry/USFWS

fws staff displays a large brook trout

Coaster Brook Trout Restoration Efforts Producing Increased Abundance

By Doug Aloisi, Genoa NFH

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Ashland, Wisconsin and National Fish Hatcheries of Genoa and Iron River Wisconsin have been involved in coaster brook trout restoration in the Lake Superior watershed since the early 1990's. Coaster brook trout are known for spending a portion of their lifespan in Lake Superior, eating and growing to a larger size than resident brook trout that inhabit the smaller tributary streams of the Lake Superior watershed. Coasters also use the tributary streams as spawning and nursery habitats. During the lumber boom era in the 1800's large swaths of the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota's forests were harvested. Tributary stream habitat was destroyed due to the industry causing spawning habitat to be smothered from lumber byproducts such as sawdust and bark from saw mills or the increased erosion from runoff caused by deforestation and removing stabilizing trees and their root systems from streambanks.

Nature has a great propensity for healing, given the opportunity, and tributary stream habitat has begun to recover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and many of our federal, tribal and state conservation partners recognized this opportunity, and began restoring Coaster brook trout populations. The Coaster is highly prized for its sport value as well, as some can approach five pounds and grow to over 20 inches in length. The USFWS role in the program is to collect wild eggs from Isle Royal National Park that has an existing stable coaster brook trout population, quarantine the eggs and fingerlings until they can be assured that they carry no harmful diseases, and distribute to our captive brood station to begin to produce fish for reintroduction. The USFWS currently supplies eggs and fish to three tribal restoration programs in Michigan and Wisconsin and these efforts are bearing fruit.

According to fisheries surveys, brook trout abundance has significantly increased in localized areas which are being planted. These results may be an indicator that conservation stocking of these beautiful fish may be warranted in other locations that hold suitable habitat and water quality parameters. And maybe someday it will not be as rare to see a beautiful Coaster emerge from Lake Superior waters when someone yells "Fish On!"

Above: Genoa NFH Biologist Orey Eckes holds a male Coaster Brook Trout from Isle Royale National Park. Photo credit: USFWS

Focus on the Field: Ashland FWCO

image of different hydroacoustic tools

Implementing a hydroacoustic survey that looks toward the surface of Lake Superior

By Jared Myers, Ashland FWCO and Dan Yule, U.S. Geological Survey and Ian Harding, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Fishery managers are increasingly reliant on hydroacoustic surveys to help regulate commercial fish harvest on Lake Superior. Nearly 2.2 million pounds of Cisco are harvested from Lake Superior annually, and that product reaches a wide range of markets. The flesh is processed into smoked fish and fillets, while the roe is primarily sold to Scandinavian countries where it is marketed as Löjrom, a type of caviar.

Cisco are difficult to enumerate because hydroacoustic surveys are best conducted during the fall when fish congregate in surface waters along the shoreline. Traditional acoustic methods use sampling equipment attached to a research vessel and aimed downward toward the lakebed. This leads to low sample volumes near the surface and the potential for fish to swim away from the boat before they can be measured by the acoustic system.

The Ashland FWCO, U.S. Geological Survey, and Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa recently combined resources to assemble and test a new hydroacoustic system that relies on a sled towed behind and to the side of the vessel and deeper in the water column. The sled allowed for a novel approach in which Lake Superior fish biologists looked up as opposed to down. Results from the new sled were compared to the traditional down-looking acoustic method along transects in western Lake Superior during the summer of 2018. While conditions of this study were markedly different from the conditions that would be expected during a fall spawning Cisco survey, it did provide greater context to the limitations of traditional acoustic sampling. Surveys with the sled up-looking transducer provided higher fish densities compared to the traditional down-looking method. Overall, the sled-based estimates were, on average, 2.5 times higher for the whole water column. The team’s findings show that the new sled can reduce bias in fish surveys by better sampling the surface waters. The ability to provide more accurate estimates of fish densities will undoubtedly lead to more informed decisions and sustainable management of Lake Superior fishes.

Above: Schematic showing standard hydroacoustic survey (right) and the new hydroacoustic sled (left). Image credit: Jared Myers/USFWS

There's Always More to Our Story...

divers training underwater image in a swimming pool

Diving into Spring

By Megan Bradley, Genoa NFH

With the early warmth and low water levels, getting out on the river seems particularly enticing this year. Each year our mussel biologists complete training, take their dive gear for servicing and then reassemble their kits to make sure they can safely dive for the season. This involves ensuring that tanks that hold their air are safe and sealed and taking the regulators they breathe from to be cleaned, as filters inside of them collect fine silt from the water and their occasional contact with the river bottom. Training this year meant taking First Aid, CPR, use of the AED and Divers Alert Network Oxygen online, then meeting in person, masked and socially distanced, to run scenarios and apply our skills. We then dove in the dive center pool to demonstrate our basic dive skills and tested our ability to communicate masked in a big echoey space. There’s always a balance to be achieved between taking risks and learning and the pandemic has made this more visible. Gathering and training together, even masked and physically distanced, makes our divers safer and builds a strong team to accomplish our freshwater mussel conservation goals.

Above: USFWS regional divers, training for the upcoming field season. Photo credit: Darrick Weissenfluh/USFWS

Fish Tales

New Horizons 4H Club Learns About Natural Resources

By Anthony Rieth, Green Bay FWCO

The March meeting of the New Horizons 4-H club (Brillion, Wisconsin) was held on March 7, 2021. After working through old business and new business. Guest speaker Anthony Rieth, Fish Biologist, was able to give a talk on behalf of the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

The presentation covered general natural resource careers and specific U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jobs. Videos that showed invasive carp sampling and bird handling were favorites of the 4-H club members. Comments from club members ranged from fish specific questions to questions on different careers, such as paleontology.

We look forward to giving these types of talks in person in the future. For now, we are thankful that technology allows us to continue to share our conservation message with future biologists, ecologists, and naturalists.

 

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